Similar, But Not The Same: Designing Projects Around Three Open Datasets

Accepted Session
Short Form
Scheduled: Thursday, June 23, 2011 from 2:30 – 3:15pm in B304


The traits of an 'open' dataset -- factors like accuracy, geographic scope and copyright entanglements -- shape the development process in profound ways. I'll share what I've learned building projects around heritage trees, public art and poetry posts in Portland, and extrapolate a blueprint for evaluating and planning open data projects.


Over the past year, I’ve been working on three projects that make open datasets available to the public:

Although the public-facing parts of these projects appear similar on the surface — apps or websites with locations on a map — the design and development process has been quite different for each.

In this talk, I’ll explore the opportunities and challenges I encountered in each, covering factors like:

  • Data source — Who gathered it, when and why?
  • Data content — What’s in it?
  • Metadata definition and stability — Is it clearly structured? Does it follow standards? Is the structure or format subject to change?
  • Data accuracy and completeness
  • Data volatility — How often does the data change?
  • Geographic scope — Does it cover a neighborhood? A city? A metro region? A state?
  • Geographic density — Is it more or less evenly distributed or are there obvious clusters and empty areas?
  • Intellectual Property — Is the data itself clearly licensed for re-use? Does it point to other data or media that have copyright restrictions or limitations?

I’ll use this comparison to suggest a re-usable blueprint for analysis and planning of open data projects, including how to match available data to audience interests and expectations, as well as identifying opportunities for community participation.

Speaking experience


  • Biography

    Matt Blair has been a freelance programming and consultant for fourteen years, with an increasing emphasis on Open Source Software over the last ten years. He has recommended and implemented systems using Firebird, PostgreSQL, Plone, Drupal, Wordpress, Django, and CouchDB.

    In 2010, Matt’s “PDX Trees” iOS app, based on Heritage Tree data released by the City of Portland, won the “Most Appealing App Award” in the Civic Apps challenge.

    His new Public Art PDX app, built in collaboration with the Office of Mayor Sam Adams and the Regional Arts & Culture Council, features nearly 500 works of public art throughout the Portland metro area. As part of this project, he is assembling a region-wide open data set, combining data contributed by multiple arts organizations, government agencies and the community.